Pandemic Planning: A Balancing Act

Please join us in welcoming Heather Bobrowicz, Programming Librarian at South Texas College, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2021-2022 year here at ACRLog.

2021 has been an interesting year so far. I began my first academic librarian position this year, in February to be precise. I’ve been spending a lot of my time in webinars and trainings, reading about the challenges and unique experiences academic libraries face, and generally adjusting to a new environment. I’m not new to librarianship. I earned my MLS in 2014 and have since worked in two different public library systems, both as a “substitute librarian” and as a children’s librarian. Now I’m settling in to a community college as a programming librarian, and I’m running in to one itty bitty, teeny weeny problem.

How in the world can I plan for the future when everything is so uncertain?

Being a public librarian meant I had to go with the flow a lot. I moved between branches when I worked in Albuquerque, and I had to adjust to the different settings and communities I served. One branch was in an affluent area full of seniors, another was practically next door to a high school, and yet another was kitty-corner to the city’s main bus station. Every branch had different needs, and I bounced between all three on a weekly basis. While my schedule and my working conditions were on the chaotic side, I had reliability. Book clubs, technology help, and knitting groups were popular at the library with a lot of seniors. Teen programs actually got some attendance at the one near the high school. And with the bus station one, I just held on for dear life and was ready for anything. I made a lot of guest passes and visitor cards.

I’m running into a very different situation in my community college job. The pandemic has made everything unpredictable. One moment I’m planning in-person programs that I will also stream online to improve access and archive the recording, and the next the kibosh has been put on any face-to-face at all. My campus put off in-person classes for the first two weeks, and everyone is holding their breath to see if we’ll keep our in-person numbers through the rest of the semester.

I’ll be clear: I like online programs. I like that I can get people from all around the world to come talk to our students, staff, and faculty. I like keeping an archive of the webinar for faculty to use in their classes. I like the simplicity of not having to set up a space. However, I miss that energy an in-person program can carry. I miss having options for interactive events that just aren’t possible to rig up with Zoom Webinar, even with all its fancy features like breakout rooms and polls.

Most of all, I miss predictability. Yes, there are always contingencies, but I’d rather plan for “oh no, we didn’t buy enough snacks” than “oh no, the whole campus us shutting down because of an outbreak.” It’s a silly thing to complain about in comparison to all the other terrible things going on in the world, but I feel like it needs to be said: This is hard, and those of us who are struggling to get it done deserve a pat on the back. I can only imagine what it’s like to be a new librarian in these circumstances. Hang in there! It isn’t always this wild!

I guess the main thing 2021 is shaping up to teach me is to make all my plans in pencil, and never take for granted having steady ground beneath my feet. You never know when the world’s going to shake things up and you’ll be left scrambling in ways you never imagined, and honestly couldn’t prepare for back in Library School.

This field really is about learning as you go, especially now.